13 January 2016 § Leave a comment
Art Visionaries is the latest publication from Laurence King Publishing, specialists in publications on the creative arts. This handsome and substantial softcover carefully lists seventy five of the ‘most influential figures in the history of art’ with an admirable clarity. Each artist is introduced on a double spread with a full page illustration of a key work and then a few hundred words that attempts to explain both their significance and artistic lives.
The copy is well written and one can only admire the self control and skill required to abstract the life of say, Picasso, in to such a brief and highly readable summary. The writers manage to include snippets of interest and plenty of snappy quotes, useful even for those who may feel that they already know these artists well. “Nobody can own this project, nobody can buy the project, nobody can possess the project or charge for tickets” stated Christo & Jean-Claude, whilst Kasimir Malevich observed “I have dragged myself out of the rubbish pool of academic art“.
A further double page spread illustrates more key works with a useful graphic artistic timeline. The extra illustrated pages allocated to each artist are nice but perhaps a double-edged sword. Whilst allowing images of more than one key work it still cuts short a deeper analysis. As an example Gerhard Richter, not unusual as an artist who went through a number of styles in his lifetime, does not get any of his abstract works featured.
Although it is not immediately clear from either the cover, this is a list of 20th century artists. There is also an almost total absence of artists from China, Africa, Asia and Oceania, along with Native and Folk artists and, although not stated anywhere, this volume therefore represents ’western art’ only. Fine, but really this should be clear in the cover notes or introduction.
To me there was a bias towards American artists and with the exception of Frida Kahlo, Nam Jun Paik, Yayoi Kusama, Mona Hatoum and Gabriel Orozco the remaining entries being Western European and Russian. The Brits do not do so well either – Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Andy Goldsworthy are the only ones other than Hirst and Whiteread in who make it in.
There were some tough choices at either end of the century. Gaugin & Cezanne for example probably died too early in the 20th century to deserve entry but it is harder with those like Munch, who was a key influence for the Fauvists, exhibited with them and worked until his death in 1944 but perhaps harshly does not find himself included. At the end of the century had the artists working in the 1990’s yet done enough?
It is of course a thankless task to condense a roll call of thousands down to any sort of ‘popularity contest’ and everyone will find some of their favourites excluded and will disagree with some of those included. There are difficult choices, Italian Futurist Filippo Marinetti is featured but Vorticist Wyndham Lewis misses out. Unforgivably Max Ernst doesn’t feature and neither do Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters or John Baldessari – all true visionaries, whilst a number of mediocre but worthy artists are included. Personally I could have done without Rachel Whiteread, Mona Hatoum, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Wall and Sophie Calle. Richard Long is surely better than Andy Goldsworthy and aren’t other Arte Povera artists more deserving than Alighiero Boetti.
Interestingly, other than on the cover there is no mention of ’Visionaries’. This is quite a powerful word and implies rather more than a list of big name artists from a specific era. A typical relevant definition is ‘a person with the ability to imagine how a country, society, industry etc will develop in the future’. If that was the case with any of the included artists it was neither evident or elucidated by the text. Despite discovering the fact that the book is actually part of the publishers ‘Visionaries‘ series (Architects, Design, Photography etc that are strangely not mentioned anywhere in the book) the impression is left that the title does not represent any sort of driving force behind the selection process.
Even if Art Visionaries could have been something more – perhaps a more detailed analysis of those artists like Picasso, Duchamp and Beuys who could have been perhaps considered as most ‘visionary’ – this is nevertheless an excellent, highly enjoyable and nicely designed volume well worth a place on your bookshelf.
For more information visit Laurence King Publishing
29 July 2014 § Leave a comment
Despite Kasimir Malevich being widely feted during his lifetime as a leader in non-figurative art exhibitions of work since his death in 1935 have been few and far between. With the location of many works not only behind the iron curtain but considered subversive – the seminal ‘Black Square’ was actually hidden from view until the 1980’s – the opportunity for bringing together a significant body of Malevich’s work has been limited.
This show is quite simply breathtaking. A 2003 Guggenheim-sponsored tour was impressive but this Tate show dwarfs anything previously attempted. An unprecedented international collaboration has brought over 150 major works plus another 150 works on paper, publications and film. It was with great anticipation therefore that we previewed the Tate show, entitled simply Malevich and were not disappointed.
Malevich is of course most famous for one of the defining works of the 20th century – Black Square. This slightly uneven shape painted with a white frame, was created in 1915 roughly contemporaneously with Marcel Duchamp’s groundbreaking readymades. Equally revolutionary it boldly and clearly signalled the end of painting as it was then known.
Bringing an end to centuries of representation this was a giant artistic full stop. He had momentously declared that art was now free of history and was ready for “the beginning of a new culture”. Malevich’s new beginning was Suprematism – a bold visual language of abstract geometric shapes and stark colours and its first exhibition was The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10 (Zero-ten).
The Tate has recreated this momentous event with by reuniting nine of the remaining twelve known works and rehanging them according to the only black and white photograph of the original exhibition. This small photograph shows, in black and white, two walls densely hung with Black Square positioned in the top corner – taking the traditional place of a typical homes religious icon.
Despite the many missing works the impact upon arriving in this room is huge. Suddenly one is aware of what a massive impact must have been felt one hundred years ago upon arriving at the same viewpoint; an earth-shattering assault on the senses that can never have been previously experienced. The effect is almost as strong today – the black and white works are bold and striking, the others surprisingly colourful.
The remainder of the show necessarily takes a back seat but is still impressive. Starting from his early paintings of Russian landscapes, agricultural workers and religious scenes, the exhibition follows the influence of the French Impressionists, particularly Matisse, and his journey towards abstract painting and his suprematist masterpieces.
In 1913, together with musician Mikhail Matyushin and poet Aleksei Kruchenykh, Malevich produced a manifesto calling for the dissolution of language and the end to rational thought before producing with them the futurist opera Victory Over the Sun. The collaboration helped bring forward ideas to wrest painting away from its duty to render a world of myths, stories and representations.
The exhibition moves in to the Suprematist era with a stunning series of rooms that chronicle the Malevich’s most inventive period. Despite shortages and poor living conditions we see exciting geometric abstracts on the white backgrounds of ‘infinite space’ and a variety of monochromes or bold shapes. Call up to the war however soon slowed down output before the gradually increasing disapproval of the new Soviet leaders of avant-garde art forced him in to abandon painting for teaching and drawing.
Possibly chastened by the Stalinist state in to conforming he later returns to painting combining his early style with the strange introduction of aspects of realism and Renaissance portraiture. It is notable however that many of his last works are not signed but instead feature a tiny black square – the same Black Square that hung over his death bed and led his funeral cortege. Malevich certainly realised that this was his key achievement – an iconic work that symbolised both the end and a new beginning.
Malevich is at Tate Modern, SE1 (020 7887 8888, tate.org.uk) until 26 October 2014